Whale Song

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Issue 271
March/April 2012
Animals: A New Ethics

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Whale Song

issue cover 271

Cover: Photo: Welsh Mountain Sheep by Julia Finzel www.juliafinzel.co.uk

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Extracts from the book-length poem Whale Nation by Heathcote Williams - a poem that honours the beauty, intelligence and majesty of the largest mammal on Earth.

© Scott Portelli www.scottportelli.com

© Scott Portelli www.scottportelli.com

From space, the planet is blue.

From space, the planet is the territory

Not of humans, but of the whale.

Blue seas cover seven-tenths of the of the earth’s surface,

And are the domain of the largest brain ever created,

With a fifty-million-year-old smile.

Ancient, unknown mammals left the land

In search of food or sanctuary,

And walked into the water.

Their arms and hands changed into water-wings;

Their tails turned into boomerang-shaped tail-flukes,

Enabling them to fly, almost weightless, through the oceans;

Their hind-legs disappeared, buried deep within their flanks.

Free from land-based pressures:

Free from droughts, earthquakes, ice-ages, volcanoes, famine,

Larger brains evolved, ten times as old as man’s…

Other creatures, with a larger cerebral cortex…

Whale families, whale tribes,

All have different songs:

An acoustic picture-language,

Spirited pulses relayed through water

At five times the speed sounds travels through air,

Varied enough to express complex emotions,

Cultural details,



A sense of the unknown.

A lone Humpback may put on a solo concert lasting for days.

Within a Humpback’s half-hour song

There are a hundred million bytes.

A million changes of frequency,

And a million tonal twists…

An Odyssey, as information-packed as Homer’s,

Can be told in thirty minutes;

Fifty-million-year-old sagas of continuous whale mind:

Accounts of the forces of nature;

The minutiae of a shared consciousness;

Whale dreams;

The accumulated knowledge of the past;

Rumours of ancestors, the Archaeoceti,

With life-spans of two and three hundred years;

Memories of loss;

Memories of ideal love;

Memories of meetings…

Heathcote Williams is a poet, actor and award-winning playwright.

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